What is the career grand slam? And 5 other things about golf’s hardest achievement

At this year’s PGA Championship, Jordan Spieth’s trying to finish off the career grand slam. We’ll hear a lot about that during tournament broadcasts, and we’ll continue to hear about it until Spieth does it. That could be this weekend. Then again, Spieth just turned 24, so if it’s not right now, he’ll have maybe 25 more years of chances to do it.

What is the career grand slam?

It’s the term for when a golfer wins all four major championships at least once: the Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (i.e. British Open), and the PGA Championship. As long as you’ve got one of each, you’ve got the slam.

How many times has someone gotten the career grand slam?

It depends on how you define different eras of golf. In what’s commonly called the “Masters era,” five men have done it: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen. Each won at least seven majors in total. Nicklaus and Woods have both won the slam three times, so if you want to think of it that way, there have been nine.

The Masters is the youngest of the four majors, having come into existence in 1934. It wasn’t such a big deal until a few decades after that. In the pre-Masters era, the career grand slam was for golfers who won the U.S. Open, The Open, and two major amateur tournaments in both the United States and Britain. Bobby Jones did that.

In the women’s game, career grand slams are harder to define, because the major circuit has done a lot of shapeshifting over the years. But Annika Sorenstam and Inbee Park have both finished off the slam since the turn of the millennium.

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How hard is it to pull off?

Exceptionally, of course. There are currently 13 men sitting one major shy of the career slam. In addition to Spieth, the active stars on that list are Phil Mickelson (missing the U.S. Open) and Rory McIlroy (the Masters.) Arnold Palmer never got the PGA title he needed. Walter Hagen never got his Masters. Sam Snead never won the U.S. Open, and Byron Nelson never won The Open. These are outright legends, and they couldn’t do it.

Hogan played the The Open exactly once in his career, in 1953. He famously insisted he’d get to that event at some point. He did, and he won, and he finished off his personal career grand slam. Then he never played that championship again.

If you win the career slam, you’re on the shortlist of the greatest golfers who have ever lived or will live. It’s one of those things that takes you to sporting immortality.

If Spieth gets it, will he be the youngest ever to do it?

If and only if he does it at Quail Hollow, yes.

Woods clinched his slam when he was 24, at the 2000 Open at St. Andrews. On his clinching Sunday, Woods was 24 years, sixth months, and 23 days old.

If Spieth wins this year’s PGA, he’ll be 24 years and 17 days old. If he doesn’t, he’ll be too old to surpass Woods by the time next year’s PGA comes around.

Do you get anything for landing the career slam?

Untold prestige and glory, but there is no special championship belt.

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Has anyone ever pulled off the entire grand slam in one season?

Well, not in the modern era. But it has happened! Once! Bobby Jones won the sport’s major four events in 1930, which first gave rise to the term ‘Grand Slam’ in a golf context. The composition of the lone true single-year Slam was a bit different that what we know today, though.

Back then, in a world where full-time pro golf wasn’t really a thing yet, we defined the four major championships differently. The U.S. Open & Open Championship were still on the list, but it was the U.S Amateur and British Amateur considered to be the world’s other two top events. Jones won all four of those in the 1930 season, immediately retired from golf, and founded Augusta National Golf Club and some tournament called The Masters.